Letter to the Editor

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 3, 2004

Dear Editor:

How often inAlabama’s history has our state been recognized for being on the cutting edge of public policy? Probably more times than we realize, but in 1935 we set a new standard for public safety that rapidly spread across the country.

OnDecember 5, 1935, Governor Bibb Graves acted on a re-election campaign pledge to institute a statewide law enforcement agency and created the Alabama Highway Patrol. Seventy-four officers reported for duty early in 1936, most on motorcycle, to patrolAlabama’s roadways to enforce speed limits and driving laws.

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What began as a small army of motorcycle-mounted Highway Patrol officers 69 years ago has evolved into a diverse, efficient and professional statewide police force within the Department of Public Safety, also known as DPS.

When I, like many of you, think of public safety officers, I first picture a State Trooper dressed in a dark gray and navy uniform wearing a wide-brimmed hat and mirrored sunglasses who stands ready to check my speed on the interstate, respond to an accident, or directing traffic at our weekend collegiate football games. These officers are a part of the Highway Patrol division of DPS and are the heart and soul of the department.

Today, DPS has six divisions, including the Highway Patrol, which provide public protection to you and your family everyday in many different ways.

The most obvious role DPS plays in our lives is issuing us our driver license through the Driver License Division. When teenagers are administered a driving test and receives their licenses, they are getting much more than a permission slip to drive; they are gaining a universally accepted, government-issued identity document.

Just think about it. To get on an airplane, bus or train to travel within the United States, to transact banking business and to use our debit and credit cards, to rent a car, to register for college, and to verify who we are in hundreds of other instances requires a government form of picture identification. A driver license fills the bill.

The integrity of our driver license must be preserved and protected. In fact, DPS will be unveiling and implementing a new issuance procedure in June of 2005 that will be the most advanced and secure process in the country.

The Alabama Department of Public Safety is on the cutting edge of technology in this area and will be leading other states in the near future, once again.

Another, less obvious role DPS plays in our lives is through the Alabama Bureau of Investigation Division, or ABI.

Not only do ABI officers conduct criminal investigations on major crimes, they also perform all background checks onAlabamacitizens when needed.

For example, ABI provides the background checks for all prospective adopting parents, public and private school educators, and caregivers employed through the Department of Human Resources.

In addition, ABI manages the Missing and Exploited Children program, the AMBER Alert system and the Explosives Team.

Of the 1200 civilian support staffers and arresting officers in all divisions and in all ranks, only 325 are actually what are called "patrolling officers," meaning that they ride the 67,500 miles of highways and interstates of our great state enforcing our driving laws. According to the Alabama State Trooper Association, that is about half the number needed for a state our size with our population when compared with our sister states in the South.

Mississippihas one-million fewer residents and 20,000 fewer miles of roadway within its state boundaries than doesAlabama, but it has 100 more patrolling officers working the roads.

The most surprising fact about DPS is that it has unofficially served asAlabama’s homeland security body since its creation in 1935. The civilian staff and arresting officers of the Department are trained and prepared to deploy a large number of people to provide support anywhere in the state within an hour or two. With outposts in every county inAlabama, State Troopers can be dispatched immediately for an emergency and can provide communications support at any time.

Last Christmas the terror alert level was raised to "Orange" for a few weeks covering the holiday season. Within two hours of the change, State Troopers were in every airport terminal, train depot and bus station in the state to provide additional security until the National Guard was in place 48 hours later.

Whether it is disaster relief from tornados and hurricanes or a public safety crisis of a bomb threat or terror strike, our State Troopers are, in fact, our dependable first responders.

The Department of Public Safety provides invaluable service to us everyday. Governor Bibb Graves is credited with chartering the Highway Patrol and he was considered a visionary in December of 1935. During his speech announcing the new department he said, "Gentlemen, if I have made a mistake, I’ll soon correct that." Clearly he didn’t make a mistake.

The charter members of the first patrol, retired officers and current State Troopers met in Montgomery last Friday for the annual "Old Timer’s Day" to celebrate the anniversary of the Department and the successes of their protection. Please join me in commending and saluting the men and women of our State Troopers and Public Safety Department for their public service.

Their dedication began a highway patrol unit 69 years ago that has expanded into a first-response public safety department that continues to meet modern challenges everyday and provides safety and security to my family and yours.

Thomas Jackson